Friday, January 20, 2006

Another story on Google v. DoJ, and nonmarket online actors

In my original post on Google v. DoJ, I'd intended to include a link to this NYT story as well as the two CNet pieces. Unfortunately, my standby source for such links--the NYT Link Generator--failed to produce a usable permalink. (Props to Nelson Pavlosky for telling me about this site, which is generally awesome.)

Here's the cool part of the story: at a quarter past noon, I emailed to note that the link didn't work--merely on the assumption that this would, maybe, help them improve their link generator.

Going above and beyond the call of duty, Aaron Swartz, who runs the site, emailed me with a live link back to the generator that, once clicked, produced a working permalink to the Times story. He did so by 9:30 tonight, a turnaround time that puts most email-based technical support services to shame. Mondo props to Swartz for the high-quality "customer" service, except that I've never paid a dime.

Why would someone create and service a valuable online tool for no compensation? (No ads on the site, either.) The NYT Link Generator is probably a better example than ShoutingLoudly, but why do I create online journalism for free when I could be mixing records or watching TV?

This question of nonmarket actors is a featured topic in Yochai Benkler's forthcoming book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. Benkler's book, expected April 3 from Yale U Press, is getting stupendous reviews.

I have nothing to say on the subject that's not cliche, but even in the early draft of the intro that I managed to snag (I somehow suspect Benkler will forgive me for this), he sure does.


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